Category: General

Eight Steps to B2B Solutions Content Marketing Success

content marketing

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA,

Today, you can’t talk about marketing without talking about content. Most of us old-timers (like me!) laugh and say, “Hasn’t marketing always been about content?” Certainly! But the nature of the content has changed. Buyers have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and we in marketing are now educators. We still position our companies and offerings, but we never promote.

In this new environment, what are the keys to content marketing success? ITSMA has identified eight steps to ensure that you win more than your fair share of mind and wallet:

1. Set Goals. Establish your content marketing objectives and align your metrics with those objectives

Marketers are good at setting objectives and metrics, but are they the right goals and metrics? There are two issues to consider here. First, do the content marketing objectives align with the business strategy? Second, do the metrics align with the content marketing objectives, and therefore, with the business strategy? Too often the marketing objectives metrics stop short of business outcomes, and instead focus on tactics and execution. It’s the difference between being a content campaign producer vs. a business value creator.


2. Do the Research. Know your buyers’ purchase process

Buyers have become more connected, empowered, proactive, and hungry to learn. They have access to information anytime and anywhere, yet ironically, buyers are harder to reach. As a result marketing and selling have become quite a challenge. Nevertheless, with a deep understanding of buyer needs and when, how, and why they buy, marketing can use content to influence buyers at every stage of the buying process. Here’s the catch: buyer profiles based on what you and the sales team think you know about your target audiences is not enough. You have to talk directly to the buyers. Only then will you have the insights you need to create the content that will persuade them to choose you.


3. Map your content to the buyers’ journey. Create content to answer buyers’ questions and address their concerns at each stage

Once you’ve done the research, and perhaps created buyer personas, you will know exactly what questions your buyers are trying to answer, depending upon where they are in their journey.  Create a content marketing matrix and fill in the boxes with the content you have available. Then look for the holes to fill. This will result in a mix of content types, including trend analyses, research-based thought leadership, case studies, solution descriptions, competitive comparisons, ROI calculators, online demos, and so forth.


4. Tell stories. Bring narrative power to your content by incorporating proven storytelling structures

Storytelling is part of the human condition, part of our DNA. It’s how we represent ourselves, our lives, and our world, both to ourselves and to each other. Stories help us to paint pictures about new possibilities. Ultimately, stories help us to connect. In the war for buyers’ attention, storytelling engages audiences emotionally and can help you win. As marketers, we must understand who the audience is, where they are now, and where we want to take them. Then we can draw from a wealth of plots, structures, and devices to bring our content to life.


5. Be visual and interactive. Create thought leadership content that engages audiences through a mix of interactive visuals, images, and words

Nothing beats a visual for communicating information and ideas. Think of it as visual storytelling. And that is exactly what 436 buyers of complex, high consideration B2B solutions told us. Their preferred format for online solution provider thought leadership content is interactive visualizations such as interactive maps, data explorers, timelines, and scroll triggered animations. They are also partial to published presentations or slide sets (bullet points and visuals) and even the more traditional text-based whitepapers, reports, and web copy.


6. Promote. Use a mix of inbound and outbound marketing to create a continuous cadence, not one-and-done rigid campaigns

Build it and they will come doesn’t work for content marketing. Content has to be promoted. Marketers need to replace time-defined campaigns with multichannel, integrated programs. Online, offline, and people-based interactions need to be seamlessly integrated. Use digital marketing to complement high-touch person-to-person marketing. Add an element of community-building and that’s a winning combination.


7. Build relationships. Emphasize the building blocks of true relationships: human contact, insight, personalization, and engagement

Marketers talk a lot about relationship building, and design all sorts of programs to do just that. All too often relationship marketing is a mechanical process of increasingly focused content communication activities: emails, webinars, newsletter subscriptions, seminars, private briefings, and so on. It’s a formulaic progression. But real relationships don’t follow a formula. They’re messy and unpredictable, and each one is different. Marketers must be flexible with their marketing automation nurture tracks. The purchase process is not actually linear. Certainly track buyers’ behavior, but don’t make assumptions about where they are in the purchase process—it could change in the blink of an eye. (The customer will determine his own ideal journey—not us!)


8. Engage sales reps and SMEs. Don’t underestimate the importance of people as a channel to communicate your content

Contrary to popular belief, nearly half the buying process for complex, high consideration solutions takes place offline, especially with people. Therefore your people—your sales reps and SMEs are perhaps your most important content marketing channels to promote and deliver your content. During the purchase process, the people your buyers most want to talk to are your SMEs. However, your SMEs only have so many hours in the day. Marketers need to find ways to increase the visibility and accessibility on- and off-line. And to Augment SME ranks, marketers should enable the sales force to be “frontline” SMEs.


What’s on your list that I missed?

Getting the Golden Nuggets in Personas: Buyer Interviews

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA,

The resounding consensus among both respondents to our recent survey who described themselves as “very effective” in using buyer personas and B2B buyer persona experts is that the most valuable insights for persona development come from qualitative, one-to-one interviews with buyers.


So what is the best way to approach this specific kind of research project?  Here are ITSMA’s observations and recommendations:

In-depth, one-to-one interviews are essential.  The form these buyer personas interviews take can vary: it depends largely on available time and resources.  They can range from 20-minute phone calls to all-day work shadowing.  Start with what is easy to accomplish in the first iteration and take it from there.  Remember that the idea is to understand buyers in their own environment and context.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of them.  Ten qualitative interviews is a good start, and may prove sufficient.  When you start to hear – and anticipate – the same answers from one interview to the next, you probably have enough.  Keep in mind that your interview pool should include both customers who recently bought from you and buyers who went elsewhere.  You won’t get everything you need from customers alone.

They don’t even have to be your customers. Sometimes it is difficult to interview your own customers. Customer databases may be woefully out of date (not your database, of course!). You might know who is paying the bill, but not who was on the selection committee. I am always surprised to hear how possessive sales can be, preventing even their own marketing department from talking to their customers. Approvals can seem to take an eternity. If you face any of these hurdles, don’t despair. You can glean first-rate insights from interviews with buyers who match the characteristics of your target audience. You just want to be sure that they recently (last six to 12 months) evaluated a purchase for the types of services and solutions you sell. In many cases, recruiting interviewees outside your customer base will reduce the timeline for buyer persona project completion.

Interview technique is key.  Taking initial answers at face value probably won’t generate the kind of insight you’re after.  Keep asking follow-up questions to get at why they make the decisions they do.  What are their thoughts, fears, goals, and objectives throughout the buying process? Who else is involved? How do their goals and concerns differ? Nugget_sm

Create an interview environment on their terms.  People often prove surprisingly open about their experiences and emotions in the buying process when someone takes an interest in understanding their perspective.  This is easy to accomplish if you exercise your skills as an open, neutral listener.  This is the main reason why salespeople should not conduct these interviews.  Interviewees want assurance that they won’t be sold to during the call and that they aren’t undermining themselves in any future negotiations.  It’s not a question of sales lacking the skills, but one of interviewee perception.

Get outside help.  While we strongly support the idea that the skills to develop and apply personas should be core to B2B marketing departments, getting support and learning from experts dramatically smooth the learning curve.  Rather that plowing through the frustrations of trial and error, learn best practice approaches from the start. Furthermore, if you decide to go the route of recruiting interviewees outside your customer base, you will want to hire a professional recruiter.

Get the interview aspect right and you’ll strike the kind of gold that would make any forty-niner proud!

With thanks to my coaches at the Buyer Persona Institute and Tony Zambito.